Wrinkles, gray hairs, and age spots, oh my! In the world of “Dr. Miami,” how can we find the space to age in a city defined by its hyperactive plastic surgery industry? Pressure to age gracefully has never been higher, but there’s still hope to embrace natural signs of aging, perhaps with a touch of excitement even.
Among all the glistening skyscrapers that comprise the Miami skyline stand billboards promoting the latest beauty fads taking the city by storm: Dr. Miami’s infamous Mommy Makeover, lip filling injectables, cool sculpting technology, Kardashian BBL and other procedures.
In recent history, Miami blossomed into the plastic surgery capital of America and became known for innovative approaches to plastics. According to a study conducted by the beauty research conglomerate RealSelf, Miami has the highest density of plastic surgeons in the country, reaching 3.9 plastic surgeons for every one hundred thousand residents.
Clearly, a market exists in South Florida for any sort of nip, snip, plump and tuck that can provide patients with the facial and body features of their dreams.
Miami’s hyperactive plastic surgery industry targets young girls and aging women alike with a beauty culture rooted in operations that contribute to an ageist, Eurocentric, and fatphobic standard of beauty. As young women embark on the task of determining their proximity to this beauty culture, some decide to take a leap of faith and go under the knife.
Following personal bouts of insecurity, sophomore Isabella Reiser made the decision to go through with a lip flip, a non-invasive surgical procedure that involves injecting Botox into the upper lip to curtail the appearance of a gummy smile.
“I have gotten a lip flip before, and I remember the doctor asking me why I was even getting the procedure,” said Reiser. “I feel like there’s a huge expectation of body type and appearance here in Miami, and as a woman, there is pressure to assume this ideal form of femininity.”
Despite the booming plastic surgery business in Miami-Dade, women have begun to question the need for surgical procedures that cause extreme alterations to their physical appearance. In light of such horrific anecdotes on television programs such as “Botched” and deliberate warnings from health care professionals, some women have adopted a surgery in moderation approach. Influenced by the experiences of close family members, sophomore Em Pachecho affirms that plastic surgery can reinforce a woman’s natural beauty instead of looking artificial.
“I feel like plastic surgery is a way to enhance one’s true beauty,” said Pachecho. “I have family members who have gotten and even performed types of plastic surgery, but [the operations] only enhanced [their appearance].”
Moreover, women have started to examine the enabling nature of plastic surgery and its connection to women’s mental health. Reiser, a psychology major, worries about the implications of plastic surgery for individuals who struggle with body dysmorphic disorder, a psychological disorder that causes an unhealthy obsession with physical appearance.
“The doctors themselves are feeding into the illusion created by body dysmorphic disorder,” said Reiser. “This is dangerous because there are so many surgical avenues that are readily available in Miami to those wanting to change their appearance, and own each of those avenues no one will tell you no.”
As calendar pages turn at the speed of light, women become increasingly aware of aging-related features, such as wrinkles and gray hair. For many women, navigating the stressors of growing up, an imminent, deep rooted fear of aging emerges and reconfigures personal relationships with beauty.
Pachehcho notes that, from her perspective, societal expectations to maintain youthfulness feed into anxiety about aging.
“I feel like women are always pressured to look young, have nice skin and have nice bodies,” Pacheco said. “I think that many young girls, especially today, are scared of aging because after a certain age it may seem like they are undesirable.”
Desirability politics, or how perceptions of beauty relate to power systems, play a huge role in vilifying the aging process. Heteronormative and patriarchal social constructions place value upon women who appear to defy aging, as this lack of aging inadvertently signals to men that a woman’s reproductive capability has been delicately safeguarded. Dr. Brian Doss, a romantic relations professor in the University of Miami psychology department, underscores the weight attractiveness holds in the realm of dating.
“The strongest predictor of initial attraction is physical attractiveness,” said doss. “Research suggests that once men reach their late twenties, they generally find younger women more physically attractive than women their own age.”
Although the aging process may creep into the lives of many without any formal notice, the rate and magnitude of aging varies on an individual basis. No secret formula exists to dictate when and where a woman may notice her first wrinkle, gray hair or age spot. However, Dr. Oliver Bracko, a biologist and process who studies the aging process at UM, argues that prioritizing personal health and making conscious lifestyle choices may prove more effective than cosmetic procedures in the perpetual fight against aging.
“Gray hair and wrinkles are linked to disease, stress, malnutrition, hormonal changes, generic factors, among other factors,” said Bracko. “Managing cardiovascular risk and reducing stress levels seem to be the best choices to slow down phenotypes associated with aging.”
In spite of the nuanced nature of plastic surgery culture, one can find comfort in the mortality of the human experience. To be frank, our time will come to an end at some point. However, Bracko underscores how aging is a universal experience that society should strive to understand and embrace instead of fear or reject.
“As of today, no magic pill can help us, so we are all aging,” said Bracko. “Aiming to increase the quality of life should be our goal, not necessarily increasing the number of years of life.”
So go ahead and say hello to your newest gray hair or burgeoning wrinkle. Give a heartfelt hug to your blossoming bunion of growing skin tag. And make sure to embrace every sprouting age spot along the way.
words_andrew mccleskey. design_michael cervantes. photo_daniella pinzón.
This article was published in Distraction’s Winter 2022 print issue.
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